The Story Of How Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Was Born

By Laura . December 7, 2012 . 6:00pm

The reason Shu Takumi joined Capcom in the first place was because he’d always loved mystery games, and so, he wanted to make his own someday. It was no surprise that he would go on to one day create the Ace Attorney series.


In a recent Iwata Asks interview for Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Takumi reveals that his first opportunity to work on the original Ace Attorney game came after his stint on Dino Crisis 2.


In an effort to foster and push younger employees in the year 2000, Capcom set up a company initiative that was essentially: “We’ll give you a year, so make whatever you want.” Takumi pounced on this opportunity and used the time he’d been given to brainstorm a prototype for Ace Attorney.


The goal was to make a mystery game. However, according to Takumi, these games also tend to follow preset pattern—make a few choices and then deduce the mystery from there. Takumi wanted to make the experience more involving for players, rather than just having them do the deductions.


This was when the phrase “search out the lies” came to him. Essentially, if you were reading the text and you felt something funny was going on, you would be able to point it out. He felt that this design would be intuitive, simple to understand, and also allow for many different possibilities. For example, if you had three testimonies and five pieces of evidence you could use, together, that would make for fifteen possible combinations.


“This naturally led to the main character’s profession being a lawyer,” Takumi recalls in his conversation with Iwata. You would be able to search for clues, and then afterwards you could hold a trial. This was a kind of game that hadn’t been done before.


As fresh as the idea was, though, the reception it was met with within Capcom was not very positive. One of the main issues brought up was that the law system was too complex. Just hearing the words “lawyer” or “trial,” Takumi’s colleagues felt that the topic would be too rigid to work with and too difficult for players to get a handle on.


Even Resident Evil creator, Shinji Mikami, who was Takumi’s supervisor when he’d been working on Dino Crisis, called over summer vacation to say: “I think it’s better if you discontinue this.”


According to Takumi, his reaction was: “Here I am, working industriously through my vacation, and that’s what you say to me?” However, instead of giving up, as a counter-reflex, he hammered out the game’s entire design document.


His main goal was to use “trials” as the game’s main theme, but to keep it from being stiff or dry. The characters would be passionate and eccentric, and the main direction would be “finding contradictions in testimonies and battering these contradictions with evidence”.


When Iwata suggests that it was due to the skepticism Takumi had to face from his colleagues that Ace Attorney had such a clear focus from the start, Takumi agrees. Essentially, if there was an idea the others didn’t like, then he’d work around it and create something that still incorporated his original idea but would also win his naysayers over.


Again, one of Takumi’s main goals was to make the game easy to understand, despite the law association. The system he came up with essentially involved listening to the testimony in its entirety once, and then allowing the player to pick out the lies in the form of a cross-examination. Because the game was focused around letting players discover contradictions and experience an “Aha!” moment, Takumi separated the trials into separate chunks and the main story into separate chapters, so the player would have several opportunities to do this.


When Iwata mentions that this might’ve been where the “good feeling” from the Ace Attorney series came about, Takumi states that, at the time, he never really thought about it this way. Because the development team consisted of only seven people, they poured their energy into doing whatever they felt was interesting at the time. They were also concentrating on pushing the capabilities of the portable system they were working on (the Game Boy Advance).


The GBA’s limitations were what restricted the story the most, but the end result was still fun and engaging. When asked why this was, Takumi credited luck and his lack of fear due to still being new to the industry. As a result, he would just write and write, while leaving the actual sorting out of details for later.


With regard to this, Takumi points out an interesting change that was made at the behest of his colleagues. What is currently Chapter 2 in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was initially supposed to be Chapter 1, Takumi recalls. However, as fans may remember, this is where an important character dies. Takumi’s colleagues pointed out that this death was much too sudden, which was why Takumi inserted another story into the game as Chapter 1, so that the character in question could be introduced and the loss would be all the more impactful afterwards. Takumi hadn’t even considered this possibility.


Iwata summarizes the development process as: “rather than not going by the book, it was that you didn’t even have a concept of the book”. Takumi agrees, stating that because this was his first time writing scenarios, he had no grasp of what was considered good technique. After the game was released and he listened to the fans’ comments and reactions, he felt that he was gaining experience, just as Phoenix himself gained experience with each game.

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